A Guide to the Historical and Contemporary Origins of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, The Rough Riders
By Bill Hogan
The Rough Riders were an all cavalry regiment raised in 1898, by Theodore Roosevelt, when the United States declared war on Spain.Tensions had been rising between the United States and Spain over it's treatment of the Cuban population.After a riot in the capital of Cuba, Havana, the U.S. sent the battleship Maine to Cuba to protect American interests.The ship was later sunk by what was determined to be an "external explosion of unknown origin.Never-the- less it was the spark that started the war.
In April of 1898 Theodore Roosevelt, who was then Assistant Secretary of the Navy announced his resignation and the formation of the First U.S. Cavalry Volunteers. The official name was quickly discarded in the popular press and the name "Rough Riders" came into common usage.Over twenty three thousand men, enough for a complete division of cavalry applied for admission.
The original Rough Riders were a cross section of America.There were college students, policemen, coal miners, sportsmen, a real life western sheriff and a few outlaws.Most of the men were ex-cowboys who recognized a great adventure and a good cause when they saw one.
After a period of training in San Antonio, Texas the Rough Riders and horses made their way by train to their embarkation point in Tampa, Fla.Here they camped in what is now the Tampa Heights area.The main headquarters for the Army Corps was in the Plant Hotel, which is now the University of Tampa.Although Theodore "Teddy" to his men, lived with them in camp he was a frequent visitor to headquarters.
The period of the Rough Riders stay in Tampa was marked by general chaos, by the Army command and general hi-jinks by the men.However, when it came time to leave a shortage of shipping determined that the Rough Riders must leave their horses in Tampa. Not only would all the horses be abandoned but also some Army units would be forced to remain. The shortage of shipping even compelled the Rough Riders to leave about half the Regiment here.Some openly wept as their 560 comrades sailed off to fight in Cuba.
Upon arrival in Cuba the men went about the process of unloading their ships on the naked shoreline, as there were no proper docking facilities.One of Teddy's two horses was drowned during off loading.Teddy's surviving horse, Little Texas would swim ashore and be ridden to battle and into history.
Besides the daily battles with supply, the Rough Riders participated in two large engagements with the Spanish Army.The first skirmish was the battle of Las Guasimas where the Rough Riders moved into contact in a jungle area and succeeded in helping to push the Spanish back to their positions on the San Juan Heights.It was here that Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders would make their famous charge.
By the time of the charge up the San Juan Heights, actually Kettle Hill, Theodore had been promoted to commander of the regiment.When the battle line stalled while attacking the Spanish trench system, Teddy took the initiative to secure orders to attack.In what could only be described as an incredible act of courage Teddy rallied the regiments on either side of his position, which included the famous "Buffalo Soldiers" and stormed the hill. Once cracking the trench line the Spanish defenses began to crumble and eventually the Spanish retreated to Santiago.Several weeks later the Spanish capitulated and the war in Cuba was over.It was this famous "charge" that is said to have carried Teddy Roosevelt all the way to the White House.
A genuine bond developed between Teddy and his Rough Riders.He knew them all by name and saw them off when the unit disbanded.He kept in communication with many service pals and often helped with money or influence when he could. For many years the Rough Rider veterans would meet at reunions to relive tales of glory and service. Whenever possible then President Roosevelt was present. No original Rough Riders survived to see the Spanish American War Centennial. However their image as hardy citizen soldiers survives today.
It is the memory of those gallant men ably led by Theodore Roosevelt which the 1st U.S. Volunteer Calvary Regiment, "the Rough Riders" wish to perpetuate. Since the City of Tampa was selected as the assembly and embarkation site of the U.S. Army of the original Rough Riders, it is fitting that the first official commemoration organization devoted to the Rough Riders was formed here. In 1978 Charlie Spicola called together people with a similar interest in history and incorporated to form "THE ROUGH RIDERS. Inc".
The Rough Riders organization is a Service and Social club. It is the intent of the members of the organization to develop ways to celebrate this great moment in American History through educational activities, social service opportunities and festive events. The Rough Riders operate a speakers bureau and an active Historical Committee which seeks opportunities to inform and entertain the public about the achievements of the original Rough Riders and Theodore Roosevelt.Activities include maintenance of historical markers, restoration work on monuments and memorials to the Spanish American War.
The club participates in a wide variety of civic and service projects throughout the Tampa Bay area. These include Special Olympics, the March of Dimes, make a Wish Foundation, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Toys for Tots, Boy Scouts of America, Pediatric Cancer Foundation and the club has adopted Roosevelt Elementary as the recipient of time and monies for academic achievement awards. The Rough Riders visit area hospitals on a regular basis. During these "Teddy Bear Runs" the members bring cheer to sick and injured children. The kids are showered with attention that includes parade beads, Teddy Roosevelt coins and cuddly "Teddy Bears".
In addition to the more serious club endeavors, the members haven't forgotten how to have fun. The club currently participates in 14 separate parades throughout the United States and the Caribbean.These include Tampa's own Gasparilla Invasion, the Sant Yago Knight Parade, and the Rough Riders own St. Patrick's Day parade in Ybor City. Other cities that receive the special shower of Rough Rider souvenirs include Brandon, Temple Terrace, Bradenton, Clearwater, Key West, San Antonio, Texas and the Cayman Islands. When they are not parading, the Rough Riders may be found hosting a variety of parties throughout the year. These range from Black Tie affairs including a Debutante Ball and a Military Dress Ball, to very casual events such a Las Vegas Night or a block party in Ybor City. The Rough Riders are active supporters of the Inter Krewe Council and club officers visit other club's festivities throughout the year.
Today's Rough Riders represent a cross section of the Tampa population. Membership currently totals over 500 men and women. Where ever the Rough Riders uniform is seen including the tan slouch hat, the navy blue shirt, khaki pants and polka dot bandanna it means that Tampa's History is alive and is celebrated by people dedicated to community involvement.